A Leiden love story – with a bit of a delay
Kerstin Fischer and Angus Johnston were exchange students in Leiden in 1995. Sparks flew when they met at a Leiden International Student Club party, but then they lost touch. They met again 19 years later and the flame was rekindled. A Leiden love story – with a bit of a delay.
Whether fleeting or forever, love affairs are part of student life. For Valentine’s Day, the Alumni Office of Leiden University has collected the funniest, most moving and most romantic love stories.
‘When I first saw Kerstin, I was a green 20-year-old who had gone to the Leiden International Student Club (LISC) with some trepidation, early in our ERASMUS year in the Netherlands in 1995. Standing in the main room of the club, I looked towards the door by the old piano and saw a lively, enthusiastic, stunning woman turn the corner and survey the room. Her hair shone as she turned her head and her eyes danced with interest at everything around her. I was struck and fascinated, and at the same time felt an immediate sense that she was so out of my league.
‘It took a good half an hour before I found the courage even to approach her at the bar and strike up a conversation. It quickly transpired that we were both intrigued by languages and interacting with people from different countries, and we were both law students. We seemed to be hitting it off rather well, beyond my wildest hopes, really. Feeling good and looking forward to a long conversation getting to know her, I saw her drink getting empty and turned round to the bar to order her another.
‘When I turned back, she was gone. I was devastated. I didn’t find her again all evening, and I could only assume that I had said something that offended her, or that she had decided that she didn’t like me after all. For many weeks thereafter, I kept trying to approach her, but we never managed to talk.’
‘I first met Angus at LISC. Although I was spending a lot of my time in Leiden with the British ERASMUS students, Angus was somewhat elusive and not a regular part of the British group I hung out with. We were both studying law, but didn’t seem to have chosen the same classes, so we rarely met by accident.
‘By the time I talked properly to Angus for the first time, his fame had preceded him. I had heard from other people that he was an Oxford undergrad and quite a bright spark, which didn’t fail to impress me. When I finally met him at LISC, I was pleasantly surprised by how unpretentious he was, and loved the fun we were having in our conversation. But all of a sudden, he turned his back on me without a word, and seemed to consider the conversation over. “Class dismissed!” I thought. I was slightly nonplussed, but thought that with my direct German ways and less-than-perfect English, I had perhaps said something offensive. I chalked it up to experience and walked off.
‘Angus wasn’t on my radar again until a dinner at Donatello’s, when he arrived late and sat down at the last remaining seat, opposite me. I was wondering how he would react, having cut off our last conversation so brusquely, but we were soon joking again and I teased him, saying, “You know, on second thoughts you’re not so bad after all!”
‘After that evening, Angus invited me to his student room in Kaarsenmakersstraat to help him with song lyrics by Fanta 4, a German rap group I loved at the time – I thought it serendipitous that he liked them too, and was impressed that someone from the UK had heard of them. I was equally impressed by Angus’s German, which was near-flawless, despite many protestations to the contrary on his part. “British understatement in full swing!” I thought. By the end of that afternoon, I had quite a crush on him, and waited for him to suggest meeting up again. But he didn’t, which was very disappointing. I told myself that I had perhaps been overenthusiastic and read too much into the whole thing.’
‘One evening, many months later, I arrived late at a birthday dinner at Donatello’s to discover Kerstin sitting opposite the only remaining seat. I sat down not knowing quite what to expect, and the expression on her face on seeing me arrive suggested something similar on her part.
‘But after an awkward start, we quickly got back to the tone and content of our first meeting at LISC all those months earlier, and we both enjoyed it, getting on to talking about the German language, the reluctance of many Brits to learn and use a foreign language, and even German music. We met again shortly afterwards in Kaarsenmakersstraat for Kerstin to help me to understand the lyrics to a German song, and spent a fun afternoon talking and laughing together. And then we lost touch for over 19 years.
‘In mid-2015, a mutual friend invited Kerstin to join a planned reunion of some Brits who were all at Leiden in 1995-6. Sadly, she couldn’t make it, but got in touch to ask me to say hello to everyone on her behalf. Over the next year, we messaged each other intermittently, then met for lunch in London, after which began an intensive conversation that culminated in a meet-up in Brussels and the start of our relationship.’
‘It was really frustrating because I couldn’t go – I’d broken my ankle the winter before and still wasn’t fit to travel. However, it gave me an excuse to contact Angus, and our renewed contact rekindled the flame for me. It was as if no time had passed, and we immediately got back to our former tone. I got very enthusiastic, but Angus was somewhat reserved. “Not again!” I thought … When we finally resolved our mutual misunderstanding at the bar at LISC 20 years earlier, everything fell into place!
‘Two years later in 2018, we returned to Leiden for another reunion, together with our then 11-month-old daughter. We revisited some old haunts, saw how much the city had changed, and reminisced about what was and might have been back then. We reminded ourselves with slightly rueful smiles that it was “better late than never”... And in that vein, we finally got married last summer – over 20 years after the sparks first flew in Leiden!’